Photo Insight with Daniel Duart
Following a degree in English language and a masters in translation, Daniel Duart moved to Russia in 1996 to learn the language and work as a translator. It was there that he developed an interest in documentary photography while taking photographs around the city. After pursuing a career in freelance photography, Duart began working as a photojournalist for local newspapers and European agencies. Since 2011 he has been working in the field of fashion photography.
Sometimes, the most interesting creative projects are born from the necessity to understand an event or a place. When I want to get a handle on an environment I’m unfamiliar with, I’ll do it in the only way I know how – through the lens of my camera.
The image you see here [which is a finalist in the Professional Travel category of the 2013 World Photography Organisation Awards] is taken from a series of images called ‘Cities from a Taxi: Tourism 3.0′. The project had its genesis during a summer holiday in New York with my girlfriend. I knew I was going to be there for a month and, as I hadn’t been there before, I realised I should attempt to document something about the place through my photography.
I had an inkling that street photography might help me understand something about the culture and people, so I took to the streets with my Nikon D3S and kept my eyes open to everything. I tried to be aware of every detail and capture it all through my lens. However, I soon realised I was falling into the trap of assuming that I would be able to produce ‘cool’ pictures simply because I was taking them in New York. I also found that, as is to be expected, people aren’t necessarily fond of having their pictures taken by a stranger on the streets of this city. After being told off once or twice, I decided to put my camera aside for a couple of days and just enjoy the city as a tourist.
During that small break from photography, I felt deflated and realised that I needed to rethink my strategy. I sat down with my girlfriend and we engaged in a lengthy brainstorming session. She helped me realise that I needed to introduce some restrictions into what I was doing. Wandering aimlessly around wasn’t going to give me what I wanted – I needed some parameters to work within.
When you look at photographs taken in any major city you’ll see there are certain subjects that crop up again and again. For example, images of London often feature red buses or telephone boxes. Images of New York seem to feature one object more than any other: yellow taxis. I decided to use this common theme with a unique spin. I essentially turned the idea inside out by putting myself within the taxi (with my girlfriend assisting on flashgun duties) and allowing the vehicle’s travels to dictate the scenes that I photographed.
Shooting from a taxi solved one of the central issues I had in that it was a good way to remain relatively covert when taking a person’s photograph. The only problem that remained was the astronomical taxi fair at the end of it. However, I figured it was worth spending two or three hours in a taxi to get the images I wanted.
Once the trip had been completed and I began to pore through the results, it occurred to me that I had stumbled on something that could potentially form a much larger project. So after New York, I decided to travel to one city on each continent and continue producing images. Shooting from the inside of taxis meant that I was able to explore the differences between the various cultures and cities, and sometimes even the insides of the taxis themselves.
As I was producing the project I began to realise that there must be a whole group of people – businessmen, for example – who must live like this. They go from city to city and meeting to meeting, having little or no time to actually explore the environment they find themselves rushing through. It must be a strange and hectic lifestyle.
This picture, taken in Marrakesh, Morocco, has led some individuals to make an observation that initially took me by surprise. I took this in October 2012, which just happened to be the same time that the Pakistani schoolgirl and education activist Malala Yousafzai survived an assassination attempt by the Taliban.
As soon as people saw the image, they began drawing parallels between the picture and the event. That really wasn’t in my mind when I took the photograph. What struck me about the scene was the juxtaposition between the western-style school uniform and the fact that the girl was walking through a Muslim neighbourhood. It was an instinctive shot. When you’re moving at 30-40kph, you really don’t have time to think.
I took this image using a 20mm lens because I wanted to ensure that I included the interior of the taxi as well as the outside world. As the lens was a fixed focal length, it meant that I didn’t need to concern myself with zooming in and out. I had the frame and I stuck to it. The D3S was a godsend in that it’s a very light and portable piece of kit. It meant that I could shoot quickly and efficiently. As I don’t know what I’m going to see on my journey, it’s crucial that my set-up is as trouble-free as possible so as soon as an interesting scene presents itself I can fire the shutter.
I think the fact that the girl is making eye contact with the camera lens is a critical factor in this being a successful picture. As the girl is looking into the lens, she is meeting the gaze of the viewer. That eye contact creates a nuance and transports the viewer into the scene. The viewer becomes the person who is sitting in the taxi looking at the outside world through glass.
Daniel Duart was talking to Oliver Atwell
To see more of his images, visit www.danielduart.com.